New dad Rooney born to star
Sir Alex Ferguson called it "one of the great pleasures of managing this football club."
The source of Ferguson's excitement was the last six minutes against CSKA Moscow and United's enduring ability to fashion an unlikely escape from the tightest corners at the last possible moment with a big finish.
United's were at it again as a rare Paul Scholes header and Antonio Valencia's deflected shot clawed back CSKA's 3-1 lead in that frantic finale and stretched their unbeaten home record in the Champions League to 23 games.
Ferguson could just as easily have been talking about the luxury of being able to launch Wayne Rooney, and you could almost use the word literally for the way he went about his business on Tuesday, into action when things get rough.
Football's most famous new father may have been short on sleep just a day after the birth of his son Kai, but he woke a dozing Old Trafford from its slumbers and made sure Ferguson got the point that fulfilled his wish for early qualification for the Champions League group phase.
New-dad Rooney comes on for Nani
Rooney's name made a surprise appearance on the list of United substitutes - and with early paternal duties fulfilled the stage was set once Vasili Berezutski headed CSKA's third two minutes after half-time.
Even as CSKA celebrated, Ferguson ordered Rooney to warm up and the mood inside a subdued Old Trafford, perhaps lulled by the knowledge even defeat was unlikely to halt the passage into the last 16, lifted several levels.
And inevitably he was at the heart of a United revival that pressurised CSKA until they finally cracked in those closing stages after 84 minutes of defiance in defence and danger in attack.
Ferguson will now hope Rooney will be well rested between now and Sunday, because other elements of a flawed United display confirmed they will need him at his most energetic when they confront leaders Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
It is unlikely Ferguson will have regarded some of United's defending as one of the great pleasures of managing this club - because there were times when it was dreadful.
True Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand were absent, but the ease with which CSKA occasionally cut through United, and the vulnerability of a static Edwin van der Sar for Alan Dzagoev's opener, provided genuine cause for concern.
Ferguson, in United's defence, rightly pointed out the number of chances created that were either missed or saved by CSKA's outstanding goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev - more of him later.
United's manager has received short shrift in recent weeks for criticism of officials, especially his attack on Alan Wiley's fitness, but he had a cast-iron case to wield the big stick here after Portuguese official Olegario Benquerenca ignored a blatant penalty when Darren Fletcher was fouled by Aleksei Berezutski.
Not only did the referee refuse the penalty, he then cautioned Fletcher for diving - a nonsense that makes Uefa's refusal to consider appeals against yellow cards a farce.
All CSKA's goals were avoidable and once again the fallability that has troubled United on occasions this season was in evidence. Ferguson went for an ultra-attacking 4-4-2 formation that occasionally left United exposed, but that still did not excuse the faults.
Up front for United, Michael Owen toiled with varying degrees of success. He missed a couple of early chances but kept hunting and was rewarded with a goal that equalised Dzagoev's first for CSKA.
It is this persistence, and a refusal to be affected by opportunities lost, that should still make him a viable contender for England coach Fabio Capello's World Cup squad. Owen was nowhere near his best on Tuesday, but he has an uncanny ability to attract chances or create openings - and the sharpness will improve with game time.
Capello admits he is "tormented" by Owen when it comes to England selection and it is easy to see why. You know he is not the player he once was, but you also know he has proved he can deliver on the big occasion. Every game he plays for United will be a proving ground for him this season and it is a dilemma that may not go away for Capello.
Another intriguing sub-plot to this entertaining encounter was Ferguson's very public praise for CSKA keeper Akinfeev, someone United have been strongly linked with in recent times.
Ferguson even flagged up his quality to United's fans via his programme notes, with an open invitation to keep an eye on this imposing figure, writing: "Watch out tonight for CSKA's goalkeeper Igor Akifeev, impressive in the first leg, too - he is a very good player."
Old Trafford had no trouble seeing him as a succession of United players lined up to test Akinfeev and found themselves beaten men as he showed himself to be physically powerful, agile, secure and willing to use all parts of his body as a barrier.
Ferguson was glowing afterwards when he was quizzed by a Russian media who clearly feared his kind words were a form of courtship and could sense a fat cheque heading CSKA Moscow's way.
He said: "The goalkeeper was fantastic. He's athletic and powerfully built. His distribution was good. He was excellent. He had a great game."
Pressed again Ferguson added: "First of all I'm not showing any interest in a goalkeeper. I'm very happy with my goalkeeping situation at the club. We won't be interested in any other goalkeeper, no matter where it is - but I have to say the goalkeeper was fantastic. He's a very good goalkeeper."
So Ferguson is happy with the strength provided by Van der Sar, Ben Foster and Tomasz Kuszczak - but we might have a good idea where he will look if he ever gets unhappy.
Van der Sar was 39 last week and coming to the end of his career, Foster is struggling to come to terms with the transition of playing at a club of United's stature and Kuszczak will never be any more than an able deputy.
United will be wise to keep all goalkeeping options open - and if Ferguson does not want Akinfeev plenty of others will after a reference like that from United's manager.
Ferguson's open admiration for Akinfeev should not go unnoticed by Van der Sar and Foster in particular. If they fall below the standards required, then we know who Ferguson rates and Old Trafford got the chance to admire his handiwork on Tuesday.
Akinfeev stood alone against United when the siege was mounted late on, and he was only beaten when Valencia's shot took a crucial deflection off Georgy Shchennikov.
As somebody once famously said about Wayne Rooney: "Remember the name."
Old Trafford had no trouble remembering Rooney's name at the final whistle as they recognised the catalyst for this latest comeback. And he ensured Ferguson can start making his plans for another assault on the latter stages of the Champions League.
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